Jan 8, 2018
More than three months after Hurricane Maria, almost half the people in Puerto Rico still don’t have electricity.
According to the Puerto Rican government, as of December 29th, 45% of Puerto Rico’s power customers were still facing blackout conditions. That is more than 1.5 million people. But the system that monitors the extent of distribution is not working, so the number could be even higher. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it will take at least until May to restore power to the whole island.
In the modern world, electricity is a basic need. Without it, people have no lights, no refrigerators, no hot meals. Businesses and jobs are disappearing on an island with an already very high unemployment rate. And more and more people are forced to flee the island and live as virtual refugees on the mainland U.S.
Officially, only 64 people died from Hurricane Maria. But families, university researchers, and reporters all say the real number is much higher. Families have reported their loved ones dying because they couldn’t get dialysis or bottled oxygen. Others died from the lack of adequate food, medicine, or a way to get to a hospital. Still others died because hospitals and retirement homes lacked electricity.
Experts on population statistics compared the death rates in September and October of 2017 to those from last year. They showed there were 516 more deaths in September and 549 more in October of 2017 than there had been in 2016. And people continue to die from the lack of electricity. In other words, many, many more people have died from the delay in restoring the power grid than died from the storm itself.
The power company and local government point out that restoring power to the whole island is a difficult task, given the extent of the damage and the lack of maintenance for years before the hurricane hit. But Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory for more than 100 years and its residents are U.S. citizens. The United States government can carry out wars across the world and build bases with electricity for hundreds of thousands of troops in the blink of an eye. It certainly has the means to quickly restore power on one island!
The U.S. claims that it acts to support the interests of people around the world, through its military and through foreign aid. But Puerto Rico is proof of the opposite. How can anyone believe that U.S. policy is driven by the interests of human beings, when it doesn’t even put the resources into restoring this basic need for its own citizens living in a U.S. territory?